Moscow this Weekend?


My guess is that not many people decide to go to Moscow for a week on a whim. And I’m definitely not the whimsical kind of guy, but I decided this Wednesday to go to Moscow this weekend. Considering the paperwork required to make it happen, this isn’t a small decision, plus a I have never purchased major airline tickets within a day of traveling. K is traveling on business and I am going to tag along to avoid the cost of £400 per night hotel rooms. Apparently Moscow is one of the most expensive places in the world.Only a couple of our travels have required a visa, and they haven’t been too difficult to obtain. Russia, however, is a bit more bureaucratic. Before applying for a visa you must have an invitation. Then the invitation and supporting documentation for your trip (flights, hotel, itinerary, etc) must be provided when applying for a visa.

To complicate matters, it was surprisingly difficult to find quality information about the process online. I was a little worried about making mistakes on the form or not having the right payment when visiting the consulate. The information I did find was inconsistent and without credible sources. Even basic information such as how much it cost wasn’t available. The official site is sparse and Google turned up mainly visa services wanting to sell you their service.

As a quick aside – one of the great things about living in London is the ability to get a visa in a day. I just hopped on the tube and pop into the consulate in the morning and picked it up in the afternoon. I can’t imagine trying to get a Russian visa within 24 hours while we were in Raleigh.

I arrived this morning at the Russian Consulate about an hour before they opened and was pleasantly surprised to find that there were only about a dozen people in front of me. Contrast that to the Indian embassy where I arrived at 4am and stood behind about 50 people more insane (or desperate) than I. When 8:30 arrived the line moved forward and we started to file through the full height metal caged turnstile. There were no people to provide direction or welcome. Suddenly the gate stopped. The man two people in front of me in line pushed, but it wouldn’t budge. He turned back to the line and quipped, “I guess we wait.” We waited about 10 minutes before there was a buzz (and perhaps a muffled voice). The gate stated working again and we continued to file through.

The single room inside wasn’t large, but resembled an exquisite 18th century home with decorative molding, tall ceilings, in-laid paintings, and a full height mirror above an ornate fire place. Russian music leaked through the glass of the bank teller style windows. A glimpse behind revealed Russian ladies busily processing piles of paperwork. There was no chaos inside. The front gate handled the crowd control. After checking my paperwork and a few corrections I paid my fee and was on my way — just under 2 hours in all.
So, for anyone looking to get a quick visa from the Russian consulate in London, here are my tips…

First, if you need a no strings invitation, I got mine from this site. For $35 you can get it delivered instantly via email. Makes the whole process seem like a sham, huh?

I downloaded the visa application from which is in fact the official site for the Russian consulate in London despite their statement that it is not a government site. The russian visa application requires practically a life history including job history, education history, and travel history. The consulate warns that you must use the form on their site, so be cautious if you go it elsewhere.

  • be sure to include phone numbers on the application. I got by with only city and state for the addresses but they did want phone numbers. There wasn’t space on the form, so they had me write them in at the bottom.
  • leave line 9 (Russian Institution to be visited) blank for tourist visa. I read this tip online and it worked fine.
  • arrive an hour ahead. The line was nowhere near as bad as for the India visa but there were about 50 people in line when I left an hour later and only one window inside.
  • the fee for a single entry visa I’d £45 and £95 for same day processing. Add £10 for double entry. They only accept cash.
  • the sign says handbags are not allowed but everyone took in messenger bags and purses without issue. Anything bigger won’t fit through the gate (with you) anyway.
  • you will need to return between 4 and 5 pm to pick up the visa. When I arrived at 4pm, there were 50 people in front of me in line. I got in about 4:45pm.

I’m looking forward to seeing Moscow. We’ll post all about it when we return.
* I wrote this on Wednesday. Needless to say it has been a busy week. Also we’ll post the details of our Istanbul trip up soon.

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